Annual Report 2020/21
Joint Message from Chairman and Principal & CEO
It is little wonder that “pandemic” was declared “Word of the Year 2020” by dictionary companies, Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com. COVID-19 has disrupted the world we are familiar with, catapulting us into a world of new challenges and opportunities. At Temasek Polytechnic (TP), we have learned to embrace this much-touted “new normal”. Our Chairman, Mr Lee Kok Choy, and Principal & CEO, Mr Peter Lam, reflect on an unprecedented financial year ending 31 March 2021.
What were you looking forward to at the start of the financial year?
Kok Choy: Well, the entire TP community was counting down the days to 6 April 2020. That would have kicked off TP’s milestone 30th anniversary celebrations. Or TP30, as we had fondly coined it.
Peter: The COVID-19 circuit breaker measures were announced to commence on 7 April 2020. Fortuitously, we unveiled the new “I🖤TP” centrepiece at the Plaza just in time before those measures kicked in, but the remaining events in the TP30 calendar were disrupted due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, we adapted to the new circumstances and adjusted our celebrations to be aligned to the new default modes of Home-Based Learning (HBL) and Work-From-Home (WFH).
How did TP handle this forced transition from physical to digital?
Kok Choy: With the circuit breaker coinciding with the start of a new academic year, we foresaw that the supply chain disruption would cause difficulty for some freshmen to obtain their devices. So we immediately started refurbishing old notebooks to scale up our Notebook Loan Scheme. A total of 150 first-year students benefitted from this initiative.
Peter: We would like to extend our gratitude to YOOZOO and Dell Computers for their timely donation of 60 new notebooks, which were distributed to our financially needy students. To ensure that not a single TP student would be left behind, we procured and loaned pocket Wi-Fi devices to those whose homes had no internet services.
Kok Choy: Although TP had already embarked on a pre-pandemic digitalisation of our teaching and learning efforts, the shift to full HBL still necessitated a deep dive into the unchartered territory of online learning. We were determined that students’ learning would not be compromised, and moved quickly to purchase various e-learning tools and software such as Padlet and Classkick. The next step was creating customised staff and student HBL guides, and conducting database briefings and refresher sessions over Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to help students uncover relevant resources for their coursework.
Peter: Thankfully, the early concerns over HBL proved to be unfounded. Our lecturers reported that most of their Pre-employment Training (PET) and Continuing Education & Training (CET) students could access online lessons with minimal issues. In fact, students were observed to be more punctual for classes, more comfortable with asking questions and just as timely when submitting assignments.
I believe our teaching colleagues are revelling in their newfound HBL abilities! Leveraging on a repertoire of e-tools, they made full use of interactive features – like Collaborate’s chat, poll and breakout room functions – to keep students attentive during lessons. Many even incorporated other apps such as Mentimeter and Kahoot to improve online engagement with students. It was heartening to see our teaching community eagerly sharing their digital discoveries with one another. I am confident that we have progressed to being comfortable with digital, physical and hybrid modes of teaching and learning.
How did TP extend help to the community?
Peter: We collaborated with Temasek Foundation and NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to launch a two-week course on RNA Virus Molecular-based Testing Training, and successfully trained over 200 participants to conduct COVID-19 testing. They now also have the requisite basic knowledge and skills to work in a molecular diagnostic laboratory for virus detection.
We expanded our CET capabilities to support government-led initiatives for pandemic-affected adult learners, workers and companies. These include the SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways (SGUP) Programme, SGUnited Skills (SGUS) Programme, and Enhanced Training Support Package (ETSP) which was especially helpful for our industry partners in the beleaguered Aerospace and Tourism sectors. TP recorded over 3,700 headcounts in these nationwide training and upskilling efforts.
Kok Choy: Speaking of SGUS, TP started a Professional Placement Section (PPS) in October 2020. PPS works closely with placement agencies such as e2i, Workforce Singapore (WSG)-Stakeholder Engagement Unit (SEU) and DP Search to match SGUS trainees with hiring companies. Since PPS started co-opting our in-house expertise to run webinars and workshops on resume writing and interview techniques, many more of our SGUS trainees have succeeded in securing jobs.
Peter: On the fresh graduates front, one of the very first initiatives we launched was the TP Career Kick-starter Programme, where we curated a list of CET courses aimed at equipping the Class of 2020 with in-demand knowledge and skills such as digital, communication, financial management, problem-solving and critical thinking. Graduates could sign up for one free post-diploma certificate course and utilise an exclusive $500 course credit to offset fees for an additional two CET courses. Over 100 of our graduates took advantage of this upskilling opportunity in 2020.
Kok Choy: Leveraging on our extensive industry network, we also curated a list of over 100 job vacancies from companies like The Tanglin Club, IBM Services and Rolls-Royce Singapore. TP did our part by providing 58 graduates short-term employment in roles ranging from finance and IT to research, facilities management, academic support and more. All these initiatives provided our fresh graduates a meaningful and valuable work experience, and strengthened their industry readiness.
COVID-19 triggered a deep desire to mark our 30th year in a meaningful way. While we have always strived to help our extended community, these activities tended to be run separately by our various Schools, departments and student co-curricular activity clubs.
So we formed TP’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Committee and our #TPCares initiative to centralise efforts and strengthen our culture of giving back well beyond TP30. We are happy that #TPCares is off to a great start! The TP Family has responded generously to this year’s various activities to help the vulnerable and marginalised.
Peter: Thanks to the generosity of Ngee Ann Kongsi, Community Foundation of Singapore and GIC Private Limited, we disbursed a total of $280,100 in emergency relief funds to over 500 students who had been adversely impacted by the pandemic. On top of this, we mobilised the TP community to contribute to our Campus Care Network Special Crisis Fund and we were able to release an additional $38,000 to help 95 students whose families were in critical need.
Kok Choy: To support the national COVID-19 strategy, we opened up one of TP’s apartment blocks at Glocal Connect Village as a Stay-Home Notice (SHN) Designated Facility. From July to October 2020, we housed 154 returning international students from Singapore’s various Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and arts institutions, who had been issued SHN orders.
TP’s Sports Complex also hosted Health Promotion Board’s swab operations team for close to two weeks in May. This contributed to Singapore’s efforts in conducting tests on identified groups, including pre-school staff and work permit holders in the various IHLs.
Health and wellness during the pandemic became, and is still, a hot button issue. Please share TP’s responses.
Kok Choy: COVID-19 severely impacted our ability to hold face-to-face interactions with our students. Fortunately, we could turn to technology to bridge this gap. We provided all our students a free premium Wysa account to access an artificial intelligence (AI) mental health chatbot that augments counselling support services. Since its launch in August 2020, there have been more than 1,400 downloads with an over 88% positive user experience.
Peter: A week into the circuit breaker, we started a weekly e-forum to provide a safe space for students to share their experience on COVID-19, validate their feelings, and empower collective coping ideas. To date, we have run more than 25 sessions that have clocked an attendance of more than 1,600 students.
Kok Choy: We did not forget about our colleagues either. With the prolonged WFH measures, we allowed staff to make claims on telecommunication charges, IT equipment and ergonomic office furniture to make WFH more comfortable. We offered, and encouraged, all staff to take the influenza vaccination to protect their health. We also managed to get everyone together, albeit over Zoom, for a TP30 finale celebration. That enjoyable Friday evening of 6 November 2020 will go into the TP archives as our first ever e-dinner and dance!
It heartened Peter and me to see staff rally one another with support, encouragement and much-needed levity during this period. Our TP Family Workplace page was filled with messages, videos and social media challenges to lift morale. Some of our very active colleagues came forward to conduct online exercise classes such as Bollywood dancing, yoga and Zumba during our regular Wednesday fitness hour.
Please share a few of TP’s highlights during this challenging year.
Peter: German writer Uwe Timm penned: “That even in the dark times there are bright moments, and that the darker the times are the brighter those moments seem.” This has certainly been true for us in TP.
We delighted in Phyllis Soo, our Diploma in Business alumna, receiving the Lee Hsien Loong Award for Outstanding All-Round Achievement. It marked the fifth time a TP graduate has received this prestigious honour awarded to only one outstanding polytechnic fresh graduate each year! We celebrated at WorldSkills Singapore 2020 as Team Temasek clinched our best ever medal tally in the competition – five Gold, seven Silver and 14 Bronze medals, as well as three Medallions of Excellence.
Kok Choy: We cheered the achievements of our colleagues Mrs Lee-Lim Sok Keow and Mr Zhang Pengchi. The leadership and guidance by Sok Keow, TP’s Deputy Principal, were vital to the release of our ‘Ask TP’ chatbot found on our website. She was featured on IBM’s 2020 list of Women Leaders in AI, which honours women from various industries who pioneer the use of AI to advance their organisations.
Pengchi, TP’s Diploma in Medical Biotechnology Course Chair, was one of this year’s finalists for the President’s Award for Teachers that recognises excellent educators for their roles in moulding the future of our nation. Our warmest congratulations to both!
Peter: Other stellar accomplishments recorded in this review year include our School of Design receiving its fourth consecutive ‘Institution of the Year’ title at the Crowbar Awards 2020, and School of Engineering’s hydrogen fuel cell-powered Eco Flash vehicle clinching the Technical Innovation Award at the 2020 Shell Eco-marathon Asia Off-Track Awards. Last but not least, Pepper, our wine-picking robot collaboration with Changi Airport Group and SoftBank Telecom Singapore, was selected for the Best Technological Collaboration category at the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce Awards 2020.
Kok Choy: Although COVID-19 halted sports competitions, 48 of our student athletes made us proud when they received the prestigious Singapore Olympic Foundation-Peter Lim scholarships. We certainly missed their exciting exploits this year and look forward to cheering them on as they take to the fields, courts and waters once again.
Your closing thoughts and wishes, please.
Kok Choy: It is all too easy to lament the fatigue that 2020 has brought upon us. Reflecting deeper however, I believe that our rallying together as One TP has strengthened our unity and our resilience. There is still much to be done, and we will do it with greater hope and confidence that we can surmount whatever challenges the future may bring. In true TP spirit, we will forge on to capitalise on new opportunities and conquer new frontiers.
Peter: To our donors, staff, students and alumni – thank you for participating, caring and journeying with us this challenging year. We would also like to express our gratitude for the support and guidance provided by our Board of Governors, School Advisory Committees and industry partners. We will continue to do our best for TP, because just like “I🖤TP” is engraved in our new Plaza centrepiece, our commitment to TP and our stakeholders is engraved deep within our hearts!